Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

First, an apology for the dead interwebs last week. I was actually not able to have internet access in Mexico like I had originally thought. I still have posts that will go live next week. I am so excited to share what happened over such a wonderful and eye-opening week. In the mean time, check out #BHBCMex on instagram or twitter!

Now: Happy St. Patrick’s Day! I plan to celebrate this evening with some Irish tea and enjoyment of some of my favorite poems from poets of the emeraled Isle. Here is my favorite poem EVER written by the incredible underrated Patrick Kavanagh. 

I find great resonance in this poem as I journey through this season of the unknown. For me, it illustrates God’s control and my need to trust. Please enjoy!

Having Confessed
by Patrick Kavanagh

Having confessed he feels
That he should go down on his knees and pray
For forgiveness for his pride, for having
Dared to view his soul from the outside.
Lie at the heart of the emotion, time
Has its own work to do. We must not anticipate
Or awaken for a moment. God cannot catch us
Unless we stay in the unconscious room
Of our hearts. We must be nothing,
Nothing that God may make us something.
We must not touch the immortal material
We must not daydream to-morrow’s judgment
God must be allowed to surprise us.
We have sinned, sinned like Lucifer
By this anticipation. Let us lie down again
Deep in anonymous humility and God
May find us worthy material for His hand.
xo,
             –Lex
P.S. You have two days until the giveaway closes on the Paint Chips and My Mother’s Chamomile set. Sign up below!

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A Year Ago Today

The bus dropped us off in an alley outside the bus station.  I was hardly conscious, my back was tense from my backpack and the winter air was cold. But we were there.

In Belfast.

To be honest, I was a little jumpy. I think research on a place your are going to visit is important before arrival. Sadly, my research on Belfast was not all pretty. Most anything I could find was about bombings, knee-cappings, street shootings, and blood baths. Woohoo! That combined with the near twenty-four hours of travel and, well, the baggage–not my luggage.

We flew out on the one year anniversary of the death of my mentor. It was a long day in the airport where I was left with little but my thoughts. Upon arrival, I felt like just a bunch of weary skin. Weary, weepy skin trying its best to hold together and hope that this trip would be something wonderful.
They say it takes about a year to grieve.

I was dropped off in that alley with the study abroad group on January 4th. It was the first day of a new year. The first day of moving forward with the heaviness beside me, hopefully no longer in me. The first day of hope. Yet as I leaned against the raised handle of my suitcase, all I now remember feeling was timidity. I had come with practically strangers. People I had had one class with, a couple girls I had lived across the hall from, but no one I was really close with. At least not at that point. This ‘hope’ was not exactly what I had bargained for.

So we stood in the entryway of the bus station, our ride to the manor late. I could only smell cigarettes of smokers past and take in the average urban grime–not exactly the Ireland you read about. Little did I know what lie around the corner.

Down the block and around the corner was the pub where I drank my first beer. Across from the most bombed Hotel in Europe. About a mile away from city center, two blocks from the bookstore called The Bookstore, all watched over by Belfast Castle. It was all there and in the two weeks we were there, it wheedled its way into my heart.

My heart broke in West Belfast, hearing the stories and surveying the heartbreak of the Shankhill road, walking beside the peace wall. My breath was taken by Carrick-A-Rede, the north shore, the rolling hills. My sense of adventure was stirred by wonderful poetry, and a regular flow of tea, conversations with locals in St. George’s Market, and live music in idyllic pubs. Around every corner was history and architecture, and music, and beauty. And the company. There were about ten of us, mostly girls. So many wonderful people that I would not want to have been on that trip without.

So many things of those two weeks I cannot even express if I tried. But here I am, trying. I was there a year ago today. My heart longs to go back. Earning my masters at Queen’s University has become a dream–pipe dream or not, only time will tell. Northern Ireland holds a small piece of my heart now. It’s hard to fall in love with a place. Especially one you know only briefly.

It’s like falling in love with the flirty barista. You give them your order, they give you coffee, you may see them the next time you get coffee, you may not. It’s a small beautiful moment that may or may not be relived. [And yes, now I’m rambling, but my blog, my world, remember?] That was Ireland–a beautiful spark of life that I hope to revisit someday. I’ve started praying for West Belfast when the longing becomes heavy. If I cannot be there in person, at least I can ask for true peace, or the steps towards it.

So that was last year: two days into my time in Belfast. Who knows what my adventures will be this year. Hopefully something international, but we’ll just see.

What were you doing a year ago?

Happy travels!

xo,
        –Lex

In Her Privy Chambers: Part II

Here is the conclusion of last weeks short fiction. Grace O’Malley has just arrived in  England and is about to face Queen Elizabeth, her supposed enemy. Enjoy!

The steward opened the door to me. Richard and about a half-a-dozen of my men followed after me.
The long, narrow room was made of wooden walls and stone ceiling, suited out in extravagant trappings. Curtains and tapestries lined the windows and walls. Hundreds of people lined the room, concentrated in clumps toward the far end of the room. They were all dressed like peacocks, ridiculous amounts of fabric on both the men and the women. The silks and velvets of their doublets and petticoats were a rainbow of colors. Their collars stood either up or out from their shoulders like odd exotic feathers. What a strange sight they were.
The room was chilled, but smelled of bodies. It reminded me of the smell that continued to linger in a ship’s hull even after the crew had left. Sweat and shit.
“Grace O’Malley, Your Majesty,” he called to the room.
I didn’t understand much English, but I knew enough of it to know it sounded ugly. They called me Grace. Bingham used the name. It sounded like the way a snake would say my name had it been given words.  It sounded slick on the tongue and not to be trusted.
As soon as my name rang through the hall, every powdered face turned to look at me. Some of them looked curious, others disgruntled, most just stunned.
At the far end, was a great chair where the lady herself was seated. I looked to Richard who stood behind me to my side. He gave me a smirk and a reassuring nod.
The crowed of smelly peacocks parted as I moved forward through the room, the polished wood cold on my bare feet. Looking at all of them in their frivolous clothing, I couldn’t help but feel underdressed.
I wore the green woolen gown Muireann had made up for me when Richard was given the MacWilliamship. I had paired it with the cape I wore on holydays. It was trimmed in fur and trailed behind me. I pulled it closer to me as I neared Elizabeth.
I felt comforted by the wooden floors beneath my feet. They were much smoother than the weathered wood of my ship’s deck, but I was able stride with greater confidence at I moved onward.
The woman did not rise as I approached. I paused in front of the throne, but did not bow.
“Grace O’Malley,” she said in greeting. She rambled off some sort of welcome in English so quickly, I could not quite make out the particulars of what she was trying to say. Instead, having come in from the rain, my nose began to drip and I sniffled.
The queen studied me as I flicked my finger under my nose, trying to keep my nose from dripping. “Dewyewneadakurcheeph?”she spoke.
English was an odd language. Harsh consonants and titling vowels. And they all spoke so rapidly, it was hard to distinguish in the language I used the least.
Everyone looked at me expectantly. They waited for me to respond. I could speak enough English to say what I needed. I could voice my complaint best in Irish. No one except Richard and my crewmen would understand me. Thinking on it for a moment, I responded in Latin.
Precibus meis,” I said. My apologies. “I do not understand.” I could hear Richard clear his throat behind me as I lied.
Video,” She responded. The queen’s Latin sounded more polished with her English accent. Still, neither of us was speaking in her more comfortable tongue. The tables were equal. We were able to express ourselves only as well as the other. “I had asked if you needed a handkerchief.”
“Please, m’lady.” A few gasps could be heard through the room. It was an address of low rank. But the queen was a peer. I couldn’t just be calling her Your Majesty like some scullery maid. Richard cleared his throat once more. This time in warning. I merely smirked at him over my shoulder as the queen gestured for one of the men present to hand me a square of linen.
I took the kerchief, trying to blow my nose as ladylike as possible. Not that I really knew how to accomplish that. I wasn’t sure how to keep the air from honking between my nostrils and the fabric.
Everyone in the court continued to stare as I brought the kerchief away from my face. No one moved to take it. I held on to it, figuring I could dispose of it momentarily.
“So you have come to me for an audience,” the queen asked. Her voice rang out through the stone ceilinged courtroom.
“Aye.” I nodded. “I have.”
“So what is it you have to say?” she asked. Her flock of peacocks all seemed to lean forward a tad.
“I say that I would like a private audience with her majesty.” I found prudence in using the title this time. Still, a collective gasp went up from the courtiers. Their hushed whispers made them sound like peacocks as well as look it, occasional squawks sounding amongst the hissing. I fiddled with the handkerchief nervously with my left hand. “If she pleases,” I added self-consciously for good measure.
After a few seconds of the hissing and squawking, the queen held up her hand and the flock fell silent. “Very well,” she said, standing. More gasps sounded through the room. Two stewards scrambled behind the throne over to a pair of doors I hadn’t noticed.
The queen stepped down from the dais and headed toward the doors. I looked back at Richard, both of us surprised it was that simple.
“Well go!” he mouthed.
Fine,” I mouthed in response, trying to scramble after the queen as gracefully as possible.
The stewards held the double doors open as we passed in to the privy chamber. One of them eyed me suspiciously as the other stared dutifully ahead. The courtiers behind us were silent as the door closed behind me.
We were alone.
The room was large, though less so than the court room. The privy chamber was square, with a tall ceiling and rich trappings. The floor of this room was made of the same dark wood, but was covered by a large green rug embroidered with golden leaves. The two great windows on either side of the hearth had thick drapes, only opened about a foot to let in light. Around the room, chairs and ornate sofas were set in clumps for entertaining. Another large chair sat on another dais at the back of the room. Blast! The woman must spend her days sitting. A china tea service sat against the left wall next to a servant’s door. Besides us and the furniture, the room was empty.
Elizabeth stood, staring me up and down.
“You’re less masculine than I would have imagined,” she observed.
I eyed her, puzzled. Was this an English complement? “Thank you.” I replied, just to be safe. Fiddling once more with the handkerchief, I decided now was as good a time as any to get rid of it. A fireplace was on the wall to my right. Nearing it, I could see out the two large, paned windows. They over looked the river, my galley visible in the distance. The embers smoldered from the morning’s fire. I stepped over and dropped the square of fabric on the ashes and it began to smoke.
Turning back to the queen, I could not mistake the look of shock that crossed her face.
“What?” I asked, confused.
“You keep that,” she said, stunned.
“I snotted in that,” I said, mildly disgusted. Why on earth would I keep the dirty rag? They had to have others, to be sure!
“You keep it in your pocket for the next time you need it.”
“Oh.” I felt my eyebrows scrunch. “I’m sorry, I guess I’m used to a higher standard if hygiene.”
I couldn’t tell if she was cross or amused by my comment. It took me a minute to recognize that it had been a tad backhanded. Silence settled over the room as we both stood in the privy chamber, enchanted by the carpet.
“Grace?” The queen asked after a bit.
“Granuaile,” I corrected without thinking. “Your majesty,” I added as an unconfident afterthought.  Her red eyebrows crinkled in puzzlement. I began to explain. “My name is Granuaile. Most of my men call me Grania. Bingham insists on calling me Grace.” I could feel my nose wrinkle as I said the disgusting name. Even saying it felt snake-like.
“Grahn-oo-wall,” she tested the word.
I couldn’t help but laugh at the pronunciation. “You can use Grania. It might be easier.” Beneath her white powder and red rouge, I could see the queen give a genuine blush. The tension in the room was beginning to dissipate, but I could still feel her discomfort.
I knew Elizabeth was only a few years my senior, but her face was beginning to sag with age. The wrinkles on her brow and around her eyes had attempted to be masked by the face powder, but the thin dust had settled into the creases, emphasizing the lines. Her lips were painted red to match the fabric of her gown. Her head was encircled with a large white collar that made her look more like a peacock than any of her ninny courtiers. Her hair was covered by a red wig that matched her brows and lashes. And beneath the lashes sat a pair of blue eyes that seemed a little sad as they studied me. I couldn’t help but feel an unexplainable pity toward the woman.
“You don’t get corrected often, do you?” I asked.
She eyed me, considering something before speaking. “Sit with me, will you?” she asked, gesturing to an embroidered settee.
I followed her to one of the seating areas. Sitting seemed a bit of a challenge for her, trying to worm her way through her skirts into a seated position. Once she was down, there was hardly room for myself. I made the best of it, pushing some of her gown to the side.
“So you’re the pirate queen,” she stated as I tried to get settled.
“That’s what the English intruders insist on calling me.” I nodded.
She shook her head. “You’re not what I was expecting.” She had spoken the same thought earlier.
“You were expecting some man in a dress to come tearing through your court?” I asked, trying not to smile at the absurdity.
“Well, if I am to believe Lord Bingham’s letters, yes.” She smiled as well. “You’re a woman in power. And you are inpower.”
I couldn’t help but give her an odd look. Was that supposed to make sense? Perhaps it was the Latin.
She shook her head, quickly. “What I mean,” she began to clarify. “Is that you have maintained your power, but you’re a woman?”
“You’re not?” I asked, still puzzled by this strange woman. They all acted as if she was God himself, and here she was right crazy!
She opened her mouth to speak, but then hesitated, folding her hands in her lap. After another moment, she finally found her words. “My advisors still do not believe a woman can be a worthy queen. To them, femininity is weakness and weakness has not place on the throne. Yet your men will sail to England to confront your better. How do you do it?”
I bristled at the word better, Richard’s words echoing in my head. Finery is not the mark of a ruler. It’s what they will do for their land.
“I do what I must to provide for my clan,” I answered. That was why I was here, wasn’t I? But I wasn’t here for my clan. Not entirely. “And my boy.”
“Right, your son.”
I nodded. “He’s committed no more treason than you have, ma’am. Any of his actions have been under my command. More against Bingham than yourself.”
The queen looked away, thinking for a moment. “Lord Bingham is really that terrible?” She asked, still not looking at me. From the tone in her voice, she already knew my answer.
“My people have not been safe on their own land in the last five years. No one knows when their farm will be taken in your name. Not to mention anyone can be accused and executed for treason at a moment’s notice.” I fingered the embroidered fabric of her skirt that pushed against my leg. “He killed my brother.”
The queen turned to me, her sad eyes now filled with concern. “In my name.” It might have been a question, but she spoke as if it was a statement.
“At least for England,” I nodded. We were both quiet for a moment as I thought about Donal. After a few moments, I spoke again. “Ireland may have been taken by you, but under Bingham, my clan is not willing to yield.”
“Is this a threat?” she asked. She didn’t seem angry. She just looked straight ahead of her, like she was thinking hard about something.
“Not at all. It’s just how things are.”
“So why are you here?” She turned, her light eyes becoming cold.
“I want my boy free. I want to be governor to my own clan. I want your permission to do what I must to maintain my clan by land or sea. Ultimately, I just want Bingham to leave me and my people alone.”
“So you are not threatening rebellion.” She looked to me once more.
I shook my head.
Looking about the room for a moment, the queen stood, freeing up more of the settee.
“Grania,” she said, beginning to pace outside the seating area. “I respect what you have done for the sake of your land. You have done nothing I would not have done myself in such a position. Nothing I wouldn’t do should Spain show up on my doorstep.” She paused, glancing out the window before turning on her heel. “I admire your tenacity. And I will acknowledge that Bingham has done you wrong. I apologize that he was acting under my orders, though I cannot apologize at my desire to squash any sign of rebellion.” She turned once more, the fabric of her gown making crinkling sounds like luffing sails with each step. The hem whumphed each time she came about. “I will write him directly, demanding your son be released. Should he have executed your son in the time you have been away, I will do what I must to right the wrong.” As she spoke these words, a knot formed at the back of my throat. Tibbot would be released. “I must think on the rest of your requests and will write you once you have left here. All I require is your word that your rebellion is against Bingham and not against England.” She stopped, directly in front of the closed door, looking to me expectantly.
I thought for a moment. I tried to form my words as diplomatically as I could. “I will stay out of England’s way if England respects my land.”
She nodded. “I feel that is fair.”
And with that, she turned on her heel, facing the door way. The audience was done.
Quickly, I scrambled up from the seat to get behind her. She cleared her throat a bit loudly and as if by magic, the chamber doors flew open simultaneously. The stewards behind them, holding them open with straight backs and indifferent gazes.
The courtiers on the other hand began to crane their necks, dying to see if there was any sign on our faces as to what had transpired. Being behind Elizabeth, I could see nothing of her expression. I could only try and suppress the smile on my own face.
The queen took her place once more on her throne. I moved beyond it down the room toward Richard. A smile broke out across his own face as he looked into my eyes.

“Come on,” I said, nodding toward the door. “It’s time to go home. We have to meet our boy.”

In Her Privy Chambers: Part I

Last year, I had to put together my undergrad thesis. For this year-long project, I had to do a heavy amount of research as well as a creative piece that furthered my discussion. I focused on historical fiction and characterization, using Irish historical figure, Grace O’Malley as a case study. The following is the first half of my creative piece. I thought you might want some fiction to break up the depression of summer ending! Enjoy!

Clew Bay

I waited until I could see the last of his men crest over the hill and out of sight, the morning fog enveloping them hopefully not to release them for many hours.
“Muireann, now! They’re over the ridge,” I cried, almost giddy at the thought of my plan. If Richard Bourke thought I had been put in my place, he had another thing coming.
We had argued most of the night about whether or not I should sail to England. Tibbot had been held captive under Lord Bingham for a fortnight now and that arse upon the throne of England had another thing coming if she thought she was going to take hold of my clan and my son. Bingham, her watch dog in Galway, had been nothing but a pricker in my corset from the day he set foot on my island and I figured if I went over his head to the bitch herself, I might just be able to accomplish something.
Not that Richard agreed with me.
“I don’t think you can accomplish much short of your own beheading. That’s all I’m saying,” he had said the night before.
“And what am I accomplishing here? Our son’s death instead?” I continued pacing back and forth in front of the large fireplace. He sat across the chamber in the four poster bed, trying to sleep. My barefeet made small slaps as I walked back and forth on the hearth-warmed stones.
“He’s bait, Grania. It’s your neck Bingham wants, not his.”
“He’s your son and heir!” I groan, looking to the ceiling for divine assistance. I was on my own against Richard an iarainn – the man of iron.
“And as such, he is perfectly capable to taking care of himself.”
“He’s seventeen! He’s hardly been captain of his own galley for a year.”
“And by sailing into their hands, what do you expect to do?” He sat up at last, finally putting in an effort to reason with me.
“I plan to get my boy back.”
“You’re planning your own murder!” he cried.
“As if they would try to take me with all of our men there,” I laughed.
“As if you would not send your men away if they threatened Tibbot. I’m telling you, it’s a trap.”
I stopped mid-pace, stamping my foot on the stone floor. “And so we must outthink their trap. Blast, Richard, it’s not as hard as you think. We take every ship we have and we sail it up the bloody Thames!”
“Ha!” his bark of laughter caused me to raise my right eyebrow. “Granuaile, the day you make England yield to you is the day Iyield to you too.”
I crossed my arms in front of my chest. Standing directly in front of the fireplace, my shadow covered the headboard as well as the wall behind the bed. Even Richard was half covered in darkness. The flames made the shadows around the tapestries flicker and my own shadow seem to tremble with the frustration lit inside me.
“You’re still leading the hunt tomorrow?” I asked.
“Aye.” He nodded, settling back down into the bed. Suddenly he straightened. “You’re not leaving this house, Grania. I’ll not have you sailing to England without me.”
“So you’ll go with me,” I tried.
He stuck me with a hard look. Even covered in my shadow, I could tell the answer coming from his blue eyes.
“Fine.” I rolled my eyes and made my way to the bed.
I walked with the symbols of surrender – slunched shoulders and grimace.
Climbing under the silk sheets and woolen blankets, I realized I couldn’t sleep without attempting at the last word.
“You know we’re going to England.”
He turned in bed, his back to me. “Good night, Grania.”
I couldn’t help but smile as I began to play the plan through my mind.
#
I beat Muireann to the narrow stone steps that led down to the third story of the hold. My handmaid was slow on the uneven steps, but I was almost as used to the castle as I was my own ship. We both rushed around the great room beneath my chamber
“Have Evin bring up a boulder to put over the privy,” I commanded. “They may try to climb up during low tide.”
“Granuaile, really.” Muireann clucked her tongue.
“Really. This is going to work, I tell you.”
She looked at me uneasy before going down the stairs to fetch Evin, the steward. To no doubt tell him I had gone mad as well. She generated half the gossip around Clew Bay, but was loyal when it mattered. She would shake her head at me, but she would follow my orders more fervently than they most steadfast of my sailors. Nevertheless, I would bet the mainsail off my galley she was alerting everyone in the hold I was being overcome by lunacy.
I rolled my eyes at the thought, double checking all the shutters were securely latched before going down to the second story to do the same. It was unlikely anyone would be able to fit through the narrow windows of the castle, but I didn’t want to take any chances. I had seen some of the younger pages make crafty escapes when they needed to. This plan was going to succeed and as such, it couldn’t be sloppy.
When I reached the ground floor, the rest of the servants had caught on to the plan. From the doorway, I could see Evin urging along two foot soldiers with a rock large enough to cover the privy hole. The windows were shut and secured and many had begun to light the torches to provide the light they needed to work by.
With Evin, the boys, and the rock headed to the third floor, the front door was shut and the deadbolt locked in place. I then had everyone corralled up to the great hall.
The great hall seemed small all shut up and quiet with the sounds of Clew Bay muffled behind the windows. It wasn’t preferable, but it was necessary. And we had plenty of supplies in the store should Richard try to starve us out. ‘Course he only brought supplies for an overnight, should they need them. I’d last longer than he.
“You all know Richard and I have been at odds on whether we should go to England to negotiate Tibbot’s return,” I began. “I would like to inform you all that, should we all be successful, we shall be off to England in a fortnight.”
A few of the servants cheered, some of the men who had stayed behind snickered.
I began to pace before them as I explained my plan.
“And should any of you attempt to unlatch the door or open a window, so help me –” I fixed the room with a hard stare. “There will be naught but torment and embarrassment at my hand. You got that?” I asked.
A few more rounds of laughter went up as I gave a wink. One of the men raised his fist with a shout.
“Long live Grainne Ui Maille!”
The entire room cried in echo, “long live Grainne Ui Maille!”
The call bounced off the stone walls and the timber floor and I hoped to heaven it echoed all the way to England.
#
As dusk fell, I could hear him and his men approaching.
He had to notice something was afoot, with three floors of windows plugged and not an outer torch lit. Still he went all the way to the door, banging on it like a fool. I could hear it all from our chamber. I had left my windows all open, but I didn’t dare stick my head out until absolutely necessary.
The muffled curses of his men began to ring out from below. I could pick out Richard’s amongst the rest.
“Damn woman!” he shouted.
I tried to suppress my smile, but it wasn’t possible.
“Granuaile!” he bellowed. His cry was punctuated by a kick at the door which echoed through the castle.
I went up the stairway in the corner of the chamber which led to the upper ramparts.
Upon seeing me, the cries of the men became more insistent. I stood at the east wall, hips slanted and arms crossed as I stood directly above Richard. Below me, I could just make out his features, squinting against the twilight to see me.
“And what, pray tell, do you think this is accomplishing?” he shouted.
“Richard Bourke, I dismiss you!” I shouted down the words of divorce.
“You’ve got to be kidding me.” His mumbles echoed against the stone walls and up to me. “All because I won’t take you to England?”
“Aye,” I shouted down.
“And you think divorcing me is going to make me take you to see the queen? I love you, Grania, but this,” he gestured to the castle “isn’t the sort of thing that is going to inspire me to prove it.”
“No, I don’t think divorcing you will get you to come to England with me. I’m going to England with or without you. I’ve dismissed you to gain your castle.”
It was too dark to really see his face, but I’m fairly certain his eyes expanded to the size of tea cups.
“What?!”
“You heard me fine,” I laughed.
“You cannot be serious.”
“Of course I’m serious. You left your hold unprotected and I have fortified it,” I bragged, thinking about the huge rock covering the privy. “You said the day England yielded to me was the same day you would yield. You have yielded your castle by leaving and I have dismissed you,” I spread my arms in demonstration. “You no longer hold any claim over Rockfleet castle.”
He groaned loudly. “Really, Grania, this is asinine.”
I leaned over the rampart. “So you yield?”
Some of the men snickered from below. I could feel Richard’s eyes boring into me from below, even though darkness had covered both of us by now.
“Oh, come on, m’lord,” one of his men shouted. “Take the woman to England.”
Silence settled over the crowed and my heart tensed and unclenched with each beat.
“Fine,” he growled at last. I couldn’t help but smile in victory. “But the castle is mine.”
Part II: London
Greenwich Palace stretched out before us, long and narrow like a cathedral. Its stone work was tan and seemed to shine in the rain that was beginning to die off. I stared up at the rounded towers, feeling intimidation I hadn’t known since I was a child. Standing on the deck of my old galley, surrounded by loyal men, I felt like a little girl, striving to earn the respect of her father’s sailors. Only this time, I was a grown woman, hoping to gain the respect of the most powerful woman in the world.
“Everything is well, Granuaile.” Richard came up behind me, giving me a conciliatory squeeze on my shoulder. “You are her equal, if not her better. Don’t let grandeur dissuade your purpose.” I looked up at him. He smiled reassuringly at my side.  “You areIreland. I yielded to you. Now it’s England’s turn.”
“You don’t actually think that’s what’s going to happen.”
“I think you’re stubborn enough to do what needs to be done.”
“Richard, this is the queen. Why did I think—”
“Why do you think you’ve accomplished any of this?”
“Because I sailed here.”
“No, I mean any of this. I mean why do you know how to sail this ship? Why do these men respect you? Why where you not only your mother’s heir, but your father’s as well? Why is your name the one feared over my own?”
I looked to the deck, unable to meet his gaze. “Because I wanted it that way,” I mumbled.
“That’s right, because you’re stubborn.” He nodded.
I gave him a hard look, smirk pulling at the edges of my lips.
“You’re in the right here. Bingham is a cream-faced loon. You need only give her your plea and she’ll understand. You’ve already sent her letters. She’s been sympathetic thus far.”
After I had taken Rockfleet, Richard and I had come to an agreement. I could have the castle as long as I didn’t just sail off to London. I had drafted a letter to Elizabeth and the court sent a series of questions. She seemed at least peaked by my story. Bingham had told her all sorts of lies, no doubt. I ate English children for desert and the like. As long as the queen’s ear was toward me, Tibbot’s neck was safe. Still, standing before one of her many palaces, I couldn’t help but feel daunted.
I pulled my cape tighter around me, trying to pretend the rainy air was chilling me. Not that I was trembling with nerves.
“She’s the bloody queen of England,” I grumped. “I’m just a chieftain’s wife.”
“When have you ever been just a chieftain’s wife?  Good Lord. If anyone is the chieftain’s wife it’s me. You’ve fought long and hard to be a captain and ruler. You were never justa chieftain’s wife. You’re not here on behalf of my clan. You’re here on behalf of your own.”
“I am not nearly the woman in there. She has armies at her command and money to burn.”
I looked up at him, his gray gaze heavy with sincerity. “Finery is not the mark of a ruler. It’s what they will do for their land.” He paused and then smiled. “Besides, she’s takin’ your money to pay for all of this.” He gestured at the palace before us.
“Long boats ready, M’lady!” Gannon, one of the deckhands called to us.
“Ready now?” Richard asked me.

I looked up at him and nodded, renewed by his speech. “Bess has got something coming if she thinks I’m given up my clan so easily.”

For Seamus

In case you have not heard, wonderful Irish poet, Seamus Heaney, passed away last week. In the past year, I have really fallen in love with his work and the great depth and meaning he slips into to such simple phrases. I was very sad to hear the world lost such a great, artistic soul.

He won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1995, and is best known for his poems exploring the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

After visiting Belfast earlier this year, I was given a very small taste of the conflict there. It is hard to describe the heartache the region has experienced in the last hundred years. So much death and bloodshed. Heaney often pondered the role of the artist in such a conflict in his work. Never once did he use his work to take sides, despite the Catholic nationalist influence of his background.

His poems are beautiful and complex. He often talks of his life on the farm, or simple everyday experiences, layered with undertones of historical musings or political thoughts.  There is so much in a Heaney poem, that I am sometimes left breathless after a reading.

In honor of his passing, I would like to share “Digging” one of his most popular poems that just happens to be about writing.

Below is a video of him reading and the text beneath that. I feel his poems are best experienced when heard with his accent 😉

Enjoy!
      –Lex


Between my finger and my thumb   

The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.


Under my window, a clean rasping sound   
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:   
My father, digging. I look down


Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds   
Bends low, comes up twenty years away   
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills   
Where he was digging.


The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft   
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.


By God, the old man could handle a spade.   
Just like his old man.


My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.


The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.


Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.